Hampton Roads-area tunnel advances to next phase of interim agreement

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Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Acting Commissioner Greg Whirley has advanced a public-private partnership to improve two Hampton Roads tunnels and extend the Martin Luther King Freeway.

The move into the second phase of the interim agreement will allow the private-sector partner, Elizabeth River Crossings LLC (ERC), to complete preliminary engineering work and cost estimates for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the project. Plans include the design and construction of a parallel Midtown Tunnel, an extension of the MLK Freeway between Interstate 264 and London Boulevard, and improvements to the existing Midtown and Downtown tunnels.

A project feasibility assessment was conducted during phase one to help determine whether the project was economically viable.

“At this stage of development, the project is technically and operationally feasible,” Whirley said in a statement. “In the months to come, VDOT and ERC will continue to negotiate and develop strategies to help eliminate uncertainties, pursue public and private sector funding opportunities and accelerate the project’s procurement.”

VDOT originally solicited bids for the project in May 2008 and signed an interim agreement with ERC in January.

VDOT is procuring the project under the PPTA to secure private-sector funds and offset the amount of public funding needed.

The group’s estimated base toll for both the Midtown and Downtown tunnels is $2.17 for cars and $6.52 for trucks. At peak traffic hours, the tolls could be as high as $2.89 for cars and $8.67 for trucks.

Tolls on the Martin Luther King Extension would range from 53 cents to 71 cents for cars that have also traveled the Midtown Tunnel and $1.60 to $2.13 for trucks that used the tunnel. Vehicles not traveling the tunnel would pay double.

Those prices were set on the assumption that there would be no state contribution.

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